So many times he’s saved us. The forward bursts through, draws back the hammer and pulls the trigger, eyes not on the ball but on the expectant net only to find that in a whirl the object of his desire has disappeared, swept away by the sweetest of tackles. No bone or muscle, it’s the timing that has defeated him. Didn’t feel a thing.
Or maybe it’s pace that will take him goalwards. There’s space to sprint into, aching aging sinew the only barrier. Yet here he is, at his shoulder, past him now as the speed of the turn and four or five strides takes the ball away. The legs are weak but that mind, that mind is as sharp as diamond-tip. This mind outwits his foe again and again.
So many times. But this time, this once, now at the crescendo of a pulsating, heart-warming second half performance, a top of the table performance, there’s the turn, the strides, the tackle. Our hero, our saviour, but no ball. Never mind the points, I wanted to spare this master of unobtrusive excellence the indignity of the moment. After 93 minutes of understated assurance and a footballing lifetime of superlatives, this one horrendous split-second. Don’t let me hear it’s over. This the finest British centre back of his generation, loyal and fine, you owe us nothing, Ledley, nothing.
He watches as the long ball curls high in the air. In the previous three minutes, City threw everyone forward but there was no way through. This way and that, they passed and probed but found nothing. Back and forth, fast and slow. Nothing. This long ball was born of frustration, yet it cut into the heart of the defence as for once we failed to protect the back four. Just once in that magnificent second half. Just once but that was enough.
And this long ball, this hopeless effort, all from a hack by the one man who guards possession like a man shielding his children’s photos from a housefire. Who will take outrageous risks to make sure the other lot don’t get that precious football. Who scowls if a clearance goes safely into touch but not to a team-mate, admonishing himself because he should have done better. yet here, just this once, Benny took the easy option. Just once.
And why now, after the steamtrain careered through the most parsimonious defence and set us one stretching centimetre from the goal and glory. After 30 minutes when, groggy on the ropes, we pick ourselves up and the City allstars are second best. When the going gets tough, this new Spurs starts to play. Not everything worked. Rafa in particular was unusually wasteful with several long-range efforts when he should have paused and passed it again. But this is a team, our team. Bale lifted us from the canvas to the heavens with a goal of power and beauty. If life could be an endless loop-tape of Hart horizontal and flailing in mid-air as the ball arcs and dips into the corner. A stupendous goal at any time or place but at this time and this place, wondrous.
Before then, Walker’s defensive shortcomings had exposed us on two occasions and two goals followed. However, for the first the real culprit was Kaboul who was drawn too far forward. Out of position, he left a huge gap for Nasri. In the first half it had been too easy for City to put the ball into those channels between full-back and centre back or between the two centre halves but they didn’t take advantage, so it seemed like the opportunity had gone as we rectified this problem in the second half by taking closer order and protecting the back four better.
Earlier we had worked hard but looked predictably weak in the final third. Bale and Lennon came inside to help the tireless Defoe with Walker and Assou Ekotto offering width. However the link-up with VDV and Modric never quite clicked. Satisfied though after the first half.
In the second, we grew in adversity. This was a top class display from a side that despite the result fully deserves to slug it out with the big boys. Defoe pinched one from a mistake but we could not have asked more from a perfect first touch and measured finish. No one individual stood out, except perhaps for Bale who was always a danger although he should have worked back harder in the first half when City were on top for a period. Modric is playing well but not at his masterly best. He was busy without ever running the game. Parker was better in the second half. No drive from him but he tucked in effectively to the back four just when needed. Kaboul was at fault for the goal as I’ve said but he made several strong challenges. Lennon worked so well, a good game. Not so for Benny who has been off since he was kicked last week. Defoe also deserves credit for his efforts in an unfamiliar role.
Redknapp’s substitution was inspired. We look better against the best teams with a tighter midfield and Parker/Modric/Livermore was a powerful axis as we tied up the game and kept possession, masterly football under intense pressure.
I was so proud. This blog has focussed, as have others over the years, on key moments upon which the match turns. For me this was also the time when we became true contenders. We matched and bettered the title favourites on their ground, after going two goals down. Sadly, the outcome only heightened the shock and disappointment, bad enough at the final whistle but worse as the evening progresses and the adrenalin rush subsides.
If another theme of this season’s blog is what success feels like, then it comes with excruciating gut-churning tension. And to think I was writing about the pressure in the West Brom game. That was like walking across the road compared with Sunday’s walking across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. And I wouldn’t be without it. Give me more, and after yesterday, bring them on, bring them all on. We’re ready. Top quality, top class.
And that’s one ending to the piece. The eagle eyed amongst you, which I believe is 100% of my readers, will notice I’ve not mentioned the ‘B’ word. Today I’ve been busy, at a funeral in fact, but all the discussion has not been about a dramatic game or superb Spurs’ display. It’s about Balotelli, so I wanted to balance things up a little, in a tiny way, because that’s what the game is about. However, there is no escaping the fact that Coty should have finished that match with 9 men. The goalscorer should have been in the bath or setting off fireworks in the shower after a blatant, vindictive and pointless stamp on Parker’s head. Lescott’s elbow in Kaboul’s face was astonishing. No excuse for using his arms to lever a header or good body position, just blatant. The Webb factor again. I don’t think for a second that he has anything against us but you can’t escape his influence. This time, it really mattered.
The wife of a friend and colleague died last week. She left us as she lived, content and calm, surrounded by her loving family. John and Steph gave up a large part of their lives to care for children less fortunate than their own. They gave them love and security, keeping them safe and enriching their lives. John is a diehard Spurs fan. He and Steph met in the Royal in the High Road. My thoughts are with his family. With Steph, nothing but good memories. Rest in peace.